Kuwait Set to Abolish Expat Sponsor System

Kuwait is currently planning on scrapping a controversial sponsorship system that has been described as a modern form of slave labor according to reports in the region.

Kuwait newspaper Al-Raj has reported that the current sponsorship system known as kafeel, is highly likely to retracted from law in February next year. The system, which currently prescribes that all foreign workers wishing to gain employment within Kuwait must receive sponsorship from a Kuwaiti employer, has been under a great deal of scrutiny in recent years because it has prevented expatriate employees from changing jobs or leaving Kuwai without receiving formal permission from their sponsor. Many employers have taken advantage of this, using their legal powers to force their employees to remain within their employment, often for a very low salary.

A local minister, Mohammad Al Afassi, revealed the plans to Al Rai saying: “We will eliminate the sponsorship system in February to coincide with the launch of the labour affairs authority.

“This will be our gift to expatriates on the occasion of Liberation Day.”

Discussing the currently conditions of many expatriate workers in Kuwait, Nisha Varia from Human Rights Watch explained to UK newspaper The Telegraph how the current laws have created a modern form of slavery:

“We have been concerned about the effects of sponsorship in Kuwait for some time, and have documented the type of exploitation and abuse it creates conditions for: from workers who have not been paid for months and are forced to work 18-hour days, to domestic workers who are physically and sexually abused.

“We welcome the news that the system may be abolished, but must emphasize that we have seen announcements made like this several times in the past 10 years, without any real reforms being made. What we would like to see is a much more detailed and explicit plan revealed by the government.”

If the changes to the law go ahead, the move will be the latest action taken as part of Kuwait’s plans to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers in the country.

According to English language news source, Gulfnews.comreaction to the proposed law change has been mixed. One blogger was quoted as saying: “We thank the minister for his humanitarian touch and his compliance with religious tenets that forbid exploiting people.” While another believed that the change in law would encourage foreign workers to leave their posts without consideration for their employer:

“Now, a foreigner can leave his work and work elsewhere regardless of financial commitments or the employer’s rights.

“This decision is obviously dictated by foreign forces and we resent it. Who will be made to assume the consequences? Employers have rights and they should not be overlooked,” he wrote.

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